The Private Intellectual
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Wednesday, October 07, 2009  

Morality, Like Passion, is for Teens and Immigrants
(h/t to Whet for reminding me)

I was listening to NPR's coverage yesterday of big companies that have quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its climate policy obstructionism. It was a good, informative story, but I was struck by its list of possible motives for the various companies:

Some businesses may support climate change legislation because it helps their bottom line. Others may do so because it's part of their marketing strategy. And still others because they feel some kind of regulation is inevitable, and they'd like the predictability that comes from getting it over with.

Anything missing from this list? Is averting catastrophic climate-related social dislocations in itself such a negligible goal that the morality of it needn't even be considered? Or failing that, even the long-term self-interest of people who might worry about the consequences for themselves, their children, and grandchildren?

Even as I write this, I am aware of how intuitively absurd it is to talk about corporations being guided by any concept of morality. But then again, why should that be so? We assume that individuals have free will and moral discernment, that they can trade short-term for long-term gain, that they can work hard and save rationally against changes in fortune. We assume that teenagers can consciously and deliberately delay or even indefinitely defer sexual activity. I've even heard many white people, including liberals, blame most of the ills of the black community on "irresponsibility."

So clearly in our culture we don't just assume that everyone responds blindly to economic incentives. Unless, of course, they're big businesses or U.S. senators. Then we just seem to take it for granted that the morality of opposing climate change or health reform or whatever is simply not to be considered.

Now maybe this is true (I happen to suspect it is, actually). If so, that would argue for more, rather than less intervention into a market system that is by common consensus utterly nihilistic, and more procedural and structural reform in a political system that is likewise unmoored from any idea of morality.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 2:25 PM
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